Art for All: The Hong Kong Affordable Art Fair

In 2007, there were no contemporary art fairs in Hong Kong. Now there are seven, each spurred on by the success of ArtHK and its successor, Art Basel Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Affordable Art Fair will open its fourth edition at the Hong Kong Conventional and Exhibition Centre on May 13, 2016, welcoming some 28,000 visitors, if last year’s count is anything to go by. But what exactly is “affordable art”? Is quality art now something that’s available to all, regardless of how much you earn?

Taking the fair’s sense of what’s affordable, then you could pick up something for as little as HK$1,000. Participating galleries have to fix their price tags between $1,000-$100,000 so there’s also an upper price cap. Fair director Stephanie Kelly reasons, “People hear about rocket-high auction prices for contemporary works and assume they cannot afford an original contemporary artwork. The price cap we have dispels that myth. Anyone can easily buy art.”

Another appeal is how straightforward it is to buy art in Hong Kong – there are no taxes and the fair ensures transparent prices free of hidden commissions. According to the Affordable Art Fair, last year, 25 percent of the 2,000 pieces sold – worth a total of $36 million – were bought by first-time buyers.

With Hong Kong being the leading contemporary art market in Asia, we’re no stranger to art fairs. We know that an art fair of any kind is primarily about sales as far as participating galleries are concerned, so what’s different about the Affordable Art Fair? According to Kelly, about 80 percent of visitors come in order to learn about art – not necessarily to buy. She’s okay with that because the fair centres around cultivating the first-time buyer market. “We create an inspiring, welcoming and friendly atmosphere that’s approachable, because the fair is the next step in the evolution of Hong Kong’s art market,” she says.

The fair has a welcoming vibe, which makes it a good place to see a lot of art. Fiona Ho, manager of the Cat Street Gallery, has been participating at the fair since its inception. “We see a lot of high school and university students exploring the fair and they aren’t here to buy,” she says. “It makes me think that Hong Kong people would like to see more art – and this is a great opportunity for that.” If you see something you like, she says, talk to the gallerist because they can offer further insights into the work on display.

Among the works presented by The Cat Street Gallery this year, Ho is excited to showcase Hong Kong fine-art photographer Chan Dick. Chan won third place in the International Photography Awards (IPA) for his series, Chai Wan Fire Station. Shot from an aerial perspective – from his workshop’s bathroom – the angle makes for a minimal look that appears to be purposefully composed and somehow casts a toy soldier affect on the subjects. “He has a great eye for our homeland, so we hope his works will reach a wider audience and be appreciated by more people,” says Ho.

The Affordable Art Fair has a few ways to make things “affordable” – that is, available – to all. “Many people feel intimidated by the art world, perhaps they lack confidence in their taste, or worry they don’t have the budget,” says Kelly. To counter this, the fair includes art tours and interactive education programs which encourage the public’s participation. In an effort to widen its reach, the fair has partnered this year with TEDxHongKongSalon, which will host ARTFUL at the Convention Centre on Friday, May 13. The interactive salon includes creative workshops and a children’s art studio which begs for people to join in, especially with their families. There will also be a panel discussion with speakers like M+ architecture and design curator Aric Chen.

Through both education and exposure, the fair’s ultimate goal is to encourage its visitors to develop an ongoing relationship with art. “I believe that love for a piece of artwork comes naturally – art is subjective and the only opinion that matters is your own,” Kelly firmly states. Ho goes a step further: “Education and exposure is key – the more you look the more you’re intrigued, or understand or even hate a piece of art. It should activate your brain, making you react, or question or answer something. It’s like Marmite – love it or hate it.”

Ho says there is another art world myth to bust, too: “The fair is a good way for people to understand that they can be close to art, they can come to our openings and exhibitions and meet the gallerists. I’d like for more people to know that they can walk into my gallery and have a look.” Sale or no sale, the more people are exposed to and appreciate art, the more people will become willing to purchase art, too. And with so few public galleries and museums in Hong Kong, why not make the most of the vibrant commercial galleries?

“The fair is complementary to the galleries and other art fairs in Hong Kong,” says Kelly. “We hope to continue to be a stepping-stone for more people to enter into the art market and helping to develop new collectors,” Kelly says.

Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong 2016 takes place from Friday, May 13 to  Sunday May 15 in Halls 3D and E at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. TEDxHongKongSalon’s “Artful” event takes place on Friday, May 13 from noon to 9pm.


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